Political News

After 54 years, Confederate flag removed from SC capitol

Posted July 10, 2015

— For the first time since the civil rights movement, the Confederate battle flag was removed entirely from the South Carolina Statehouse, in a swift ceremony Friday before thousands of people who cheered as the Civil War-era banner was lowered from a 30-foot flagpole.

Many people believed the flag would fly indefinitely in this state, which was the first to leave Union, but the killing of nine black church members during a Bible study in Charleston last month changed that sentiment, reigniting calls to bring down Confederate flags and symbols across the nation.

Dylann Roof, a white man who was photographed with the flag, is charged in the shooting deaths, and authorities have called the killings a hate crime.

"We thought, 'Nah, the legislature would never go with this,' but they did," said April Ulrey, who recently moved from South Carolina to Chapel Hill.

The crowd chanted "USA, USA" and "hey, hey, hey, goodbye" as an honor guard of South Carolina troopers lowered the flag during a six-minute ceremony. Gov. Nikki Haley stood on the Statehouse steps along with family members of the victims and other dignitaries. While she didn't speak, she nodded and smiled in the direction of the crowd after someone shouted: "Thank you, governor."

Haley supported the flag before the shooting, but the Republican had a change of heart in the days after the killings, urging legislators to pass a bill before the end of the summer. She signed the legislation Thursday.

As she looked on, two troopers rolled the flag and tied it up with a string. They handed it to Lt. Derrick Gamble, a black trooper, who brought it to the Statehouse steps. When the trooper handed it to a state archivist, the governor clapped.

"This state has really come together as one. I think it showed the nation what it truly means to be one," Gamble said.

President Barack Obama tweeted minutes after the flag was down, saying it was "a sign of good will and healing and a meaningful step towards a better future." Obama delivered a eulogy at the funeral for state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was also pastor of the church where the killings took place.

The honor guard that took the flag down was the same group of men who carried Pinckney's coffin into the Statehouse for a viewing last month.

Denise Quarles' mother, Myra Thompson, received her license to preach just hours before the June 17 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Quarles said the group known as the "Emanuel 9" smiled from heaven as the Confederate flag was taken down for good.

"The tragedy was a tragedy, but now, on the other side of that tragedy, we see a lot of positives coming out. Maybe people will change their hearts," Quarles said.

A van brought the flag to the nearby Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. There, it eventually will be housed in a multimillion-dollar shrine lawmakers promised to build as part of a deal to get a bill passed removing the flag.

After the flag was taken down, the NAACP ended its longstanding boycott of South Carolina.

"Our work is to make things fair, just and right for all people," said Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP. "You can do it. We can do it. So, that's where we go next."

South Carolina's leaders first flew the battle flag over the Statehouse dome in 1961 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Civil War. It remained there to represent official opposition to the civil rights movement.

Decades later, mass protests against the flag by those who said it was a symbol of racism and white supremacy led to a compromise in 2000 with lawmakers who insisted that it symbolized Southern heritage and states' rights. The two sides came to an agreement to move the flag from the dome to a 30-foot pole next to a Confederate monument in front of the Statehouse.

Many thought it would stay there. Within hours, even the flagpole and the iron fence that surrounded it had been removed.

Patsy Eaddy, a black woman, said there was a "sense of embarrassment" of seeing the flag still flying after all these years. She attended the ceremony to see an important milestone in the civil rights movement.

"We lived through the turbulent '60s. I'm just so happy to be here to witness this," she said.

"For the first time in my life, the state has said that we're all one and all lives matter, and if it offends us, we will take it down," Rev. Nelson Rivers said. "After all these years, the state wouldn't do it, but it was done today. It's an awesome day."

Gervais Street in front of the capitol was shut down to accommodate the large crowd, some of whom danced in the street after the flag was down. People who supported removing the flag chanted "take it down" before the ceremony and vastly outnumbered those who were upset about the move.

"It feels so good to be out here and be happy about it," said Ronald D. Barton, 52, a pastor who also was at the ceremony in 2000.

"I'm 52 years old, and I know the flag went on the dome right before I was born," Leigh Ann Pfannenstiel said. "I think it's only right that it comes down now."

"We like the fact that it came down. It didn't represent what we felt like was a positive side of our ancestors," Kesha Coleman said.

"At the end of the day, it's still a piece of fabric," Lonnie Graham said. "You don't know people's true actions, but it is symbolic. It's history."

Artist Bernard Jackson captured the historic event on his own piece of fabric, combining on canvas a portrait of a black Union soldier with images of the Confederate flag and the crowd watching the flag being removed.

"South Carolina can get on with the business of loving each other and growing," Jackson said. "There's nothing but beautiful things ahead of us now. This is the best day in South Carolina history. It's better than the end of the war because it officially ended today."

He said he plans to take his painting to schools as a history lesson and to make posters of it before donating it to either a church or a museum.

Haley did not answer questions, but earlier Friday, on NBC's "Today" show, she said: "No one should ever drive by the Statehouse and feel pain. No one should ever drive by the Statehouse and feel like they don't belong."

Still, others were not celebrating.

"We are here today primarily to remember the 650,000 casualties of the Civil War," said war re-enactor Kenneth Robinson.

Robinson and fellow re-enactors held a vigil on the Statehouse grounds, hoping to ensure that Civil War veterans and others aren't forgotten.

"Nine lives matter," he said, referring to the victims of the church shooting. "All deaths matter, period."

Clad in a black dress similar to those worn in the 19th century, Cindy Lampley clutched a poster showing photos of ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. Lampley said she is a historical re-enactor who fears removing symbols like the flag dishonors her relatives who fought for the Southern cause.

"I think it's important that we remember them," Lampley said. "It's a sad day for me that my ancestors will no longer see their flag flying next to their memorial."

109 Comments

Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Tommy Frieda Holloman Jul 10, 2015
    user avatar

    And what has it all accomplished? Just gives the newshounds a chance to pit people against other in the name of news...The more they agitate, the more division they create...Personally I am sad that my country has dropped to such a level..Just one little fact here that I haven't seen in any of the discussions....The flag that serves as the present day state flag in South Carolina is essentially the same flag that flew over that same statehouse during the entire Civil War....Why aren't folks upset about that, after all its the flag that represented South Carolina during those years...

  • Mike C Jul 10, 2015
    user avatar

    Since they are doing away with anything that may represent slavery, are white bedsheets next?

  • Jonathan Manning Jul 10, 2015
    user avatar

    Guess it's ok to have BET na that's not offensive......

  • Robert Batchelor Jul 10, 2015
    user avatar

    GOD SAVE THE SOUTH

  • Ken Butler Jul 10, 2015
    user avatar

    In addition to the comments by John S, I am also somewhat troubled by the assertion that it is not good to use history as an excuse. This type of thinking, or variants, essentially seeks to negate the black experience. Legal slavery may have ended but other forms of invidious racial discrimination persist to this day. As recently as the 1990s the USDA settled a lawsuit based on allegations of discrimination in granting agricultural loans to black farmers, which led many such farmers to lose their land. Of course housing discrimination and job discrimination persist. Nor are white Americans, such as Paul and myself, likely to be randomly stopped and roughed up by police under "stop and frisk" policies. These may not be "excuses" but to ignore this aspect of history is to believe that all current actions occur in a vacuum.

  • Paul Jones Jul 10, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    You are referring to this?
    http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/primarysources/secessionacts.html

    Or you might be referring to this:
    http://www.civil-war.net/pages/southcarolina_declaration.asp

    I did not say slavery wasn't a factor. It was, but even in that it had to so with violations of the Constitution by the north. We know taxes were an issue. Taxes were lowered in 1857, but then increased again with Morrill Tariff of 1861.

    The Union was falling apart. Even Lincoln made the comment before the split that if he could keep slavery, but save the Union, he would. In other words, slavery or not, the Union was falling apart.

    When the Cornerstone speech was given, the view of black people was low. However, that same speech could have won an applause in New York, which also established oppressive laws against black people after the Civil War.

    Considering that few people owned slaves, it wasn't only slavery.

  • John Snow Jul 10, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    Paul, I beg to differ with you regArding slavery and the civil war. Taxes were no longer an issue by the time of secession. The tariff act of 1857 was written by southerners and taxes were lower than ever.

    Secondly, if you read the SC act of secession, they clearly state that the mAin reason for secession was that their property rights in slaves was being infringed.

    Also, if you read the Cornerstone speech given by Stephens, the VP of the confederacy weeks before the start of the war, he clearly states that slavery was the reason for the war. He states that slavery and "subjugation to the superior race" was the natural state of the negro. Slavery is the root cause to the subordinate causes of states rights (to allow slavery) and economics (to keep a slave based economy).

  • Paul Jones Jul 10, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread


    Ken, you are wrong on a few points.

    1) Slavery was an issue, but the the only issue. Long before the civil war, SC had debated leaving the union over taxes. The war was about treatment of the south. Slavery was certainly an element, as it was accepted at the time and considered important for the southern economy.

    2) The flag was originally put up to celebrate the civil war. This was before the civil rights movement, but it did remain there because of civil rights. Importantly, it was moved off of the capitol building to the memorial 15 years ago. Now, it's removed from a confederate memorial. That's the issue.

    3) White do commit crime, but per the FBI, blacks (13-15% of the population) was responsible for more murders than all other races combined. I think that's people's point there.

    4) Good to remember history, but not good to use it as an excuse.

  • Ken Butler Jul 10, 2015
    user avatar

    (4) Quit harping about slavery, it took place 150 years ago. This ignores the century of legal segregation, and ongoing racial discrimination, which has been objectively demonstrated on numerous occasions. The fact that this many people continue to protest the lowering of this despicable racist symbol speaks volumes. And just in case anyone is wondering, I had ancestors on both sides who fought for the Confederacy, as well as ancestors who owned slaves, and I find nothing in that heritage worth celebrating or honoring.

  • Ken Butler Jul 10, 2015
    user avatar

    If anyone ever doubted the need for this flag to come down, they only need to look at some of the comments of this thread. This constitutes some of the greatest examples of the type of pure ignorance and systemic racism that exists in this country. They include: (1) the flag had nothing to do with slavery. Yes it did. The motive for the Civil War was the desire to preserve slavery. It was not any of the revisionist claptrap that the post-war period sought to allege. (2) We are throwing away history to satisfy political correctness. The flying of this flag in the mid-20th century was to express opposition to integration and civil rights. I suppose that’s a history that you want to preserve. (3) Look at all the crime committed by blacks. They should focus on their own culture. Maybe white people should focus on their culture as it supplies the overwhelming majority of serial killers and mass murderers, not to mention the financial criminals who essentially wrecked the world e

More...